Detroit’s most recent black eye is the beating of a man who accidentally hit a child, and then did the right thing by stopping. For some incomprehensible reason, several people began beating Steven Utesh. The attack put him in critical condition, where he remains today.
The issue of Utash being white, and his attackers being black continues to overshadow the fact that we as a society are just more violent and increasingly desensitized as a result; race remains a factor because it is unfortunately the first thing we see. And, it sadly defines who, what and how we interpret what we see, as well.
I thought about a recent drive down Woodward Avenue, where I saw four or five young black men beating another young black man on the ground. Blows and kicks flew as heavily and as quickly as the traffic passing the attack. It was a hard image to get out of my head, because I can’t imagine the level of hate or anger that would drive such attacks. When an update about Utash aired, it was followed by another story about a man from Westland; a white man who had been beaten by other white men. And, these stories are interwoven with daily reports of similar incidents, all of which are inhuman, race notwithstanding.
Yet, many of the social media and internet comments, including those on the site set up to raise funds for his medical bills, are rooted in race. It was because he was white; it was because the attackers were black. Everything is racial, yet no one claims to be a racist.
We live in a society that is angry and violent and where the fact that economics shape behaviors is too often ignored. It has to be about race. And, it is.
It’s about race because it shapes who we see and how we see them. It makes a Florida man feel intimidated enough by “black” music to kill a teen; it defines large group of black people as gangs, but an equal number of white as celebrants; it means sagging pants and hoodies are an indication of a violent person, unless they are worn by Justin Bieber.
Our perceptions—or misperceptions—are more dangerous than any reality. They fuel a prejudice that sits subcutaneously, like a week old zit just waiting for the first opportunity—or excuse—to pop.
You can look into the eyes of a person and truly see their soul. Looking at the pictures of Utash, you can see a calm and compassion long gone for too many of us. Yet, in one photo he has two fingers from each hand up. I interpreted it as a peace sign. Heck, I have even taken a similar shot. However, these are the same gestures when in Instagram or Facebook pics of young African-Americans, are dubbed “thuggish” or “gang signs” and somehow indicate that they lead a life of violence and societal insubordination.
The variance in complexion was a reason why blacks were targeted as slaves; they would be quickly and easily identifiable if they tried to flee. And, today that is the same reason —or is interpreted as such—for everything done, from both sides.
African-Americans are forced to decipher whether ill behavior is rooted in rudeness or racism. Just like their white counterparts, the assumption is always the latter. Sometimes it is true, and other times it is not. Yet, without confirmation from the accuser each party walks away with an assumption, for better or worse.
White people don’t understand what it is like to be black; ignored in a store, overlooked in a restaurant, or being on the receiving end of rude behavior and believing—even if never admitting—that it has to do with race. Blacks are plagued with a veil of sensitivity most other races never know.
And, black people don’t understand what it is like to be white; to have a society build around accommodation, and the feeling of entitlement that comes with it.
Yet, each and every human being knows what it is like to hurt. We are all built with a compassion that was part of the package of being human. Those who beat Steve Utash—a well as the attackers of the man in Westland, the party store owner who was shot, the old man who was beaten in a gas station and those seemingly endless aggressors against victims whose faces and stories never make it to the news—do not represent every black person or human being any more than Utash is the lone representative of every white male in society. It is just a fair inaccuracy on both sides.
Until we remove our racially tinted glasses through which we choose to see each and every thing, we will always find ourselves behind the race ball, and the accusations, connotations and social tensions that come with it.
Right is right, and wrong is wrong regardless of who is doing it and to whom it is being done. No hue can ever change that. And, sometimes it is not black or white; it’s just ignorance, which comes in all colors.